Literature Study GuidesFaust Parts 1 And 2Part 2 Act 5 Scenes 1 2 Summary

Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Study Guide

Goethe

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Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Part 2, Act 5, Scenes 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Act 5, Scene 1: Countryside with Seashore

At this point a traveler comes to visit an old couple, Baucis and Philemon, who once saved him and his possessions after a shipwreck. They tell him the Emperor has leased the shores to a man who has reclaimed land from the sea. The old man, Philemon, thinks it's wonderful to have farmland, towns, and a castle where once there was only water. His wife, Baucis, however, doesn't like it. She's sure people were killed working on the reclamation and believes most of the work was done at night by magic. Now, she says, the "godless" man "itches to possess" their house and garden. Philemon invites the traveler to go to the chapel with them to "ring the bell" and "pray."

Part 2, Act 5, Scene 2: Faust's Palace

Back to Faust, who is out walking in his formal gardens. He has grown old. As Lynceus calls out from the watchtower that a ship is entering the harbor, Faust hears a church bell ringing, which riles him. It reminds him that he doesn't own everything in his lands; he doesn't own the "mouldering kirk, dun cabin, linden grove." The ship docks, and Mephistopheles and the three Mighty Men (Raufebold, Habebald, and Haltefest) disembark. Mephistopheles congratulates them on the success of their voyage, but they complain that Faust doesn't seem very happy with its success. Alone with Mephistopheles, Faust explains he can't be satisfied until he owns the linden grove. He wants to build a viewing platform there so he can overlook all his lands. He has provided a nice cottage for the old couple and wants them moved into it. Mephistopheles sends the Mighty Men to take care of the problem.

Analysis

Many years have passed between the end of Act 4 and the beginning of Act 5. According to Goethe, Faust is now 100 years old, and readers must infer what has occurred in this time from the events of Act 5, Scenes 1 and 2. Faust has drained many miles of shoreline, enabling him to create farmlands and towns. He owns almost all the land, so he must have grown wealthy from the rents. He also has plenty of income from thriving trade; after all, Mephistopheles and the Mighty Men left with two ships and returned with twenty. It would appear that Faust has everything he could ever have wanted. But Faust's tragic flaw—and, at the same time, his redemption—is that he is never satisfied; he always has to be striving toward a seemingly impossible goal. What's more, there's always another goal ahead.

Readers learn in Scene 1 of Act 5 that the only parcel of land he doesn't own in his entire kingdom is the one on which an old peasant couple lives. Oddly, the couple are named Baucis and Philemon, just like two characters in Greek myth. In the myth, the gods Zeus and Hermes announce they will be visiting a certain community. Everyone starts preparing for the visit. But the gods disguise themselves as travelers, come to the village, and start going door to door looking for food and shelter. None of the rich people help the travelers because they're too busy preparing for the Zeus visit. When the travelers knock on Baucis and Philemon's door, though, the poor couple gives them what little food they have. Zeus reveals himself and takes them up a mountain. While they're away, the region floods. When they return, their hut has been replaced by a temple, and the couple become its guardians. Zeus offers to grant them a wish, and they wish that neither of them will outlive the other. When they die, they are turned into intertwining trees—an oak and a linden so that they will never be parted. Oaks are symbols of strength and stability, and lindens represent love and fertility. Both trees can live for centuries. There are many echoes of the Greek myth in these scenes: The old couple takes in a traveler, they tend a chapel, and they have a grove of linden trees. But they aren't in classical Greece, and the similarity stops there. The traveler is not a god, but a mortal, and it is Faust who has saved them from flooding. They don't turn into linden trees; in fact, their linden grove is destroyed by fire, along with their chapel and their cottage. Still, like their mythical counterparts, Baucis and Philemon die at the same time.

Because the action in Act 5 takes place in Germany, Mephistopheles has his full knowledge and power. When he sends the Mighty Men to move Baucis and Philemon from their home to the new cottage Faust has prepared for them, it is likely Mephistopheles knows just what will happen. Fire is his element, after all. Oddly, the fire burns not only the old couple, their cottage, and the chapel with its offensive bell, but also the linden grove where Faust wants to build his viewing platform. By burning this, Mephistopheles is preventing Faust from getting something he wants. This seems counterproductive to his own goal of making Faust feel fulfilled, and is an important contradictory element of the story at this point.

It is Baucis and Philemon who provide most of the information readers receive about Faust's reclamation projects. Philemon praises his work and explains that it has made his own life better. But once again it's the woman who sees the complete situation. She knows that dark magic has achieved most of the gains and that humans have died in the process. Like Gretchen and Helen before her, Baucis recognizes and is repulsed by evil. It is not actually Faust, however, who is evil. His intention is to do good for the region and for the old couple, whom he expects to be happy in their new cottage. His problem is that he sees his own goals clearly, and they shape how he sees and deals with the feelings and needs of others. What is evil is actually Mephistopheles's involvement. Through his henchmen, it is Mephistopheles who will make sure Faust's well-meaning plans are not carried out as intended, instead resulting in tragedy.

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